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Comics & Medicine 2011: attempt at an articulate summation

I will now do my best to write a brief report on the Comics & Medicine conference without using “OMG,” “awesome,” or excessive exclamation marks. We’ll see how I do.

For months now I have been both looking forward to and completely stressed out about this conference. Here’s why I was looking forward: I kept thinking about how Comics & Medicine was not only (ha!) a gathering of cartoonists, doctors, nurses, academics, and other extremely interesting people; it would be my first time meeting Brian Fies, author of Mom’s Cancer, who has supported me since I emailed him in 2009 to get advice on publishing a graphic memoir about illness; a chance to meet MK Czerwiec, who writes and draws the Comic Nurse comics and who I could tell was awesome cool after just a brief email correspondence; and a chance to rub shoulders with people I had huge admiration for, like Scott McCloud, Paul Gravett and Phoebe Gloeckner. And here’s why I was stressing out: everything I just said! Plus, I was preparing for a panel presentation and a workshop, and I was convinced I had no idea what I was talking about. In fact, I had realized that I was a fake cartoonist, with no talent and nothing interesting to say.

So it was wonderful when not only did nothing bad happen, but, to put it mildly, the conference was a brilliant weekend of electric connections, artistic and intellectual stimulation, laughter (the kind that happens over drinks and shared stories of beloved parents with dementia) and  self-reflection. OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!

Here are some photos:

I arrived in Chicago Thursday evening and was late getting to my hotel because the traffic was crazy due to extreme thunder and lightning that ended right before our plane came in. I raced to the opening reception…

Meeting Brian for the first time, at the opening night reception. We became BFFs right away, which was a true act of bravery on his part, because I looked a bit crazy I was so excited!

Sarah Leavitt and Brian Fies at Comics and Medicine 2011

This is a page from Tangles at the art exhibit at the opening reception. Wine did not reduce my extreme, vibrating excitement.

Sarah Leavitt with art at Comics and Medicine 2011

This is part of a comic by Thom Ferrier, the doctor/cartoonist who started this whole thing. I love this bit with the brain deteriorating… Thom is great at combining humour and pathos. See http://thomferrier.com

Tough by Thom Ferrier

Then came the conference:

This is Phoebe Gloeckner. If you have not seen her work, go buy it and read it. This is a bad photo and does not adequately convey important info, such as a) she is ridiculously attractive, b) she presented a completely jumbled slide show that nevertheless captivated everyone, and c) the slides show the illustrations she did for Vogue Hommes in which she illustrated men’s fashions in interesting ways — the image on the right is a guy in a Dolce and Gabanna suit flashing a woman and her daughter in a park. See http://www.ravenblond.com

Phoebe Gloeckner at Comics and Medicine 2011

Brian introduced me to Scott McCloud, once I got over my shyness. Scott was very nice and chatty and normal, and even wore a checked shirt!

Scott McCloud, Brian Fies, Sarah Leavitt at Comics and Medicine 2011

One of my conference pals was John Swogger, an archaelogical illustrator and cartoonist from Wales. See John’s conference post here: http://bit.ly/iAp1Gl

John Swogger at Comics and Medicine 2011

These are just some of the photos I took. For more from the conference, see Brian Fies’s blog. And keep an eye out for updates on the Graphic Medicine website.

I went to all the panels I could, and they were great: using comics for health education with youth; looking in detail at Our Cancer Year, how the art both draws the reader in and pushes them away (by smartypants Mita Mahato of the University of Puget Sound), and more… Paul Gravett gave an incredible overview of the history of graphic medicine — I think maybe 1/1,000,000 of the comix expertise he carries in his head, Scott McCloud guided a worshipful crowd through a rapid-fire examination of comics and visual information, David Small talked about the torturous process of creating Stitches, and so on… I met Raney Linck, a nurse educator from Minnesota, Shelley Wall, an extremely talented medical illustrator from Toronto who is writing and drawing about her partner who has Parkinson’s…

Ultimately, I came away from the conference feeling like I had found my people. This group of smart, somewhat nerdy, compassionate, curious, generous people. It made me feel like they were all Jewish, or all lesbians, they felt so familiar. Especially, but not only, the cartoonists. Aside from my good friend Eve Corbel, I really had never connected with any other cartoonists. And now I have. And somehow, this experience of finding a place in the world of cartoonists is a super deep and meaningful moment. After a successful panel and workshop, and excited responses to my book, and especially after a stern lecture from Brian Fies, I even believe that I am real cartoonist. Don’t worry, I am still cynical and snarky. But this is serious. :)

If for some weird reason you want more after finishing this long post, check out the tweets I did during the conference (Twitter account link to your right), or the #comicsmedicine hashtag on Twitter, or stay tuned for my post about the workshop I presented, “From Diary to Graphic Narrative.”

I will end with two of my 100 architectural photos, from the delicious day and a half I spent wandering the city with MK Czerwiec and Paul Gravett after the conference was over.

The Aqua Building by Jeanne Gang.

Aqua Bldg by Jeanne Gang, Chicago, photo by Sarah Leavitt

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, amazing outdoor sculpture.

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, Chicago, photo by Sarah Leavitt

Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 at 4:25 pm
Filed under Comics, Comics & Writing, Tangles, Tangles Readings & Festivals.
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5 Comments about “Comics & Medicine 2011: attempt at an articulate summation”

  1. 06/14/11 : 8:23 PM Christin Geall says:

    Lovely post, Sarah. You’re still sparklin’. So pleased you’ve found a(nother) tribe :)
    CG

  2. 06/15/11 : 7:31 PM John S says:

    Best conference ever – no question. “fake cartoonist, with no talent and nothing interesting to say” – Bollocks! Sheesh. If you’re a fake cartoonist with no talent and nothing interesting to say, I’d hate to meet a real one! I meant what I said: Tangles blows a lot of books out there right out of the water. Hey – you never said what you were working on next. Something based in Wales – and you have to come over for a research trip, right? Buy you a Hendricks and tonic in our village pub!

  3. 06/15/11 : 8:33 PM sarah says:

    Thanks, Christin! John, how did you guess? No, in fact my next project is set just 5 hours from Vancouver, so I am travelling there in August to research. BUT I am determined to come to the UK in 2012, whether for the next conference or promoting my book or whatever. So I am counting on the Hendricks and tonic(s). With cucumber!

  4. 06/17/11 : 11:01 AM Susan Squier says:

    This totally grabs it, Sarah! And I agree with John’s comment “Tangles blows a lot of books out there right out of the water.” Just wish I’d been able to attend yr. workshop.

  5. 06/17/11 : 4:36 PM Michael Green says:

    Great meeting and you helped make it that way! Thanks for contributing so much. Michael Green

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